Handling Cold Water Carp

A repost from last year, this is a subject I never see covered anywhere despite mentioning it in several of my articles in the past, but it is a vitally important issue which can’t be repeated often enough in my mind.

Carp are cold blooded. This means that the carp is the same temperature as the water it is living in. This affects the carp’s metabolism greatly and is the reason your bait choice is so crucial during the winter months but this is another subject for another place. Humans are warm blooded which  means we are warmer than our winter surroundings.

So, carp are cold blooded – FACT.
Humans are warm blooded – FACT.

Warm blooded animal touches cold blooded fish and you shock it almost burning it – FACT!

During the winter months more than any other time you will have issues with the fish kicking up stink the first time you touch them. Try and pick them up for a photograph and they will squirm around and kick around. They aren’t comfortable at all and the more they squirm and kick the more slime gets transferred to your clothing, mat and sling. This protective coating of mucus is extra thick during the cold winter months because this is the time the carp really need it. Nature is trying to look after it and protect it at its most vulnerable time and you are not helping by trying to get a photograph.

Just take a look how much more slime/mucus is left even in your landing net mesh during the winter when compared to the summer months.

carp fishing tips blog

Cool your hands down

Now the main purpose of this piece and the very simple solution I found to keep the fish remaining calm and a solution we certainly owe to the carp to do. Once I started soaking my hands for a short period before handling the fish the problems of them kicking around stopped. Now I admit this isn’t a very pleasant thing to do plunging your hands into a cold lake for a minute or so before handling a good fish but much better for the carp.

carp fishing tips blog

Don’t forget to wet your hands

It doesn’t take us long to warm our hands again but it takes the carp a long while to produce another layer of protective mucus and in the time it is producing it all sorts of parasite could be attacking it. Please think what you are doing the next time a fish kicks up a stink. It isn’t so noticeable during the warmer months as the difference in our body temperature isn’t so great.

Whilst writing about fish care I will add a few further thoughts.

Un-hooking mats have always been a major gripe with me – most are much larger and much thicker than we really need but I guess we have to think about those who don’t have a clue how to control a fish on the bank where a full sized bed probably wouldn’t be big enough!

So, I guess erring on the safety side, on the whole, large thick padded mats are the safest option but really a little extra attention to where you are laying the mat and ensuring nothing lumpy or sharp is underneath is vitally important. I guess my gripe comes from the days I started carp angling and the humble unhooking mat was still to be invented. We put ourselves out to find the softest safest ground to lay the fish upon.

carp fishing tips blog

Extreme winter capture

One thing I have started to do with the bigger fish when I am lucky enough to land one – particularly the deep bodied fish is to slide my stiff armed weigh/retention sling underneath them before carrying them to the bank. This I feel is much better for them and tends to stop the deep bodied fish bending up as much as they often do when carried in a net.

Looking at video footage highlights many things not often noticed. The heaviest fish are the biggest problem. Doubles and 20’s usually look fine being lifted out in the landing net. One thing I hate to see is the eye being turned whilst being carried to the bank. This happens with most captures but still makes me cringe to see it. It doesn’t happen the same when carried in a stiff armed weigh/retention sling.

When fish kick off on the mat I tend to put the wet sling back over them rather than dive on them and wrestle them with dry slime-removing clothes. If they kick off in my arms I find simply tilting them back calms them.

carp fishing tips blog

I wouldn’t want to try and lift this deep bodied monster higher than a cradle.

I have always had reservations about the carp cradles which are becoming more and more popular. What if you have framework troubles, someone falls on it etc or it simply comes to the end of its life and collapses. How effective as a mat are they once the frame is broken? I have also seen a good fish smack its head hard on the frame of a cradle once the angler had the fish in his arms. If cradles are to be used I would much rather see them with big padded frames. Personally I don’t like them as you are forced higher off the ground with the fish than would be natural to me. Certainly some of the very deep bodied fish which would have to be lifted higher than normal to keep the cradle from obscuring the fish on the trophy shot that we all like to have so much.

Out of choice I prefer 2 x thinner mats than 1 x big padded mat. I like to un-hook on one. Transfer the fish to the other, chuck the net out of the way and then pick the fish and mat up and put it on the second mat for treatment if required and photography. I guess that comes from mainly fishing on my own. I always seemed to be messing around juggling about getting rid of the landing net. We all develop our preferred ways.

Hopefully the above is a little to think about and once again for the sake of the carp – PLEASE COOL YOUR HANDS DOWN BEFORE TRYING TO HANDLE THEM.

Best fishes
Shaun Harrison.
Quest Baits


6 thoughts on “Handling Cold Water Carp

  1. Andy Gilbert says:

    A good, interesting read there Shaun. I agree with you about carp cradles, they’re just a little bit too high and it does make taking photos a pain. I’ve fished several lakes that supply them in swims and I still take my own unhooking mat with me ( i like the solid foam padded zip up style mats instead of beanie ones). I lay my own mat at the side of the cradle, unhook it and lift it from the cradle (with the sling in) and get the photo from above my mat. The carp goes back on top of the sling in the cradle and ready to transfer back to the water. You can’t really squat properly behind a cradle for a photo and imagine dropping to your knees on a sharp stone with the fish in your arms and losing it either side of the cradle.

  2. Andy Gilbert says:

    I apologise for using the word ‘cradle’ so many times in that reply, what else can you call them though?

  3. Paul Cooper says:

    Hi Shaun
    I purchased an Avid carp couch 18 months ago and I have found it very useful, and safe for carp and grassies. This item would be totally useless for Catfish or sturgeon but hopefully I don’t catch too many or none at all. The mat is padded even around the frame.
    I still have 3 other large flat padded mats which I am beginning to find are difficult for me to use due to the problem I have been having with my knees. Over Xmas I have had my 1st full knee replacement and am due for the other one to be replaced later this year. Mats and landing fish are going to be a major problem for me once I manage to get back down to the bank side, due to the kneeling required, but I am surmising that my cradle framed mat will be the answer. I understand fully your concerns over the use of cradles but sometimes they could be the only answer for some anglers to look after a fish safely on the bank. Cradles do take the punch out of a carp when it kicks on the mat.
    On my French travels I am encountering more grass carp than I would like, but the cradle does seem to control them to a certain degree. Flat mats are useless with grassies but we still have to treat them with the same care as a mirror and common carp.
    You have had the advantage of growing up with carp, when average sizes of carp were drastically smaller than what are inhabiting the waters of today. Anglers coming into the carp scene these days expect and actually experience much larger fish than we did our training on. Unfortunately not all have the capabilities to handle fish safely due to lack of experience, so cradles are probably safer than a mat where the fish can thrash all over the mat and off onto the bank.

    Good point over winter fishing and the extra mucus on fish and our hands burning them. Perhaps we should have a close season for carp over the really cold Winter months. Being captured in winter certainly must effect their welfare far more than during the warmer months.


  4. Andrew Gilbert says:

    I feel for you there Paul, last Christmas I had to go under the knife for a knee operation too. Apparently my knee cap had shifted round and having never had any type of operation, I wasn’t too keen on having it done. The doctor advised me that without the operation, I would need a knee replacement within several years. From what I was told having a replacement means that kneeling is very painful and almost impossible on hard surfaces. Due to my work I spend lots of time kneeling, so I decided to have the operation. Afterwards the doctor told me I had snapped my anterior cruciate ligament, as well as having some bone fragments floating about. I can kneel fine know, but I can’t squat on my haunches very well. I hope they put you to sleep for your operation, I got kept awake and I wouldn’t wish having an epidural done on my worst enemy. It’s a shame that you’ve got another knee operation to look forwards too. Get rested up and hopefully it doesn’t affect your fishing too severely in the future.

  5. Shaun Harrison says:

    Sensible comments Paul and I see perfectly the advantage to people with bad legs/knees having the fish slightly higher off the ground but it isn’t for me yet. Funnily enough I suffered a lot with my knees on my first year on the Mangrove and couldn’t kneel down (it felt like pins were being pushed into my nerves). The doctor told me I had worn them out from too much kneeling (every time I set up angling) and probably climbing too many stairs which he said was one of the worst things for premature knee wear. I must have had some floating bone as suddenly it sorted itself out and I don’t get the pains like I used to.

    Grass carp wise the best bit of advice I can give anyone is to ‘make them fight’ in the water. As you will know they often come in real easy and are netted before they have particularly kicked off. These days when a grassy comes to the net if it hasn’t done much I prod it with the net rather than netting them. This usually spooks them into battle. I have actually had some great scraps from Grassies after doing this. The outcome is that they are much more tired on the bank and less prone to thrash around shedding scales.

  6. Paul Cooper says:

    Thanks for the sympathy Andy and Shaun.
    Plenty of pain killers and determination will get me right, along with a well prepared procedure to land, unhook, and photo my carp. Until then I will leave them alone.

    You soon learn after the capture of a few large grassies about Shaun,s tactics, My 1st introduction to really big grass carp was on Margot about 10 years ago with Jim Kelly. I had captured a 25lb grass carp which had already kicked off on the mat. I was by the waters edge facing away from the lake towards Jim who was in charge of the camera, when it flicked its tail, and it was over my head and did a full dive into the lake and gone. Never again.
    As you say, with a lot of them they just swim right to you giving the fight of a tench, then go ballistic at the net. I generally hit them with the net around 4 to 5 times and then get some terrific battles, before I even think about landing them. Even then, they can still kick off and slap you around the head a few times. Lovely creatures! Cradles do work for these B——-.
    Amour Blanc (white love) as the French call them.


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